This past year has been a whirlwind: I quit my bartending job in Florida, my boyfriend and I moved to Puerto Rico, and I started my career teaching yoga. I was always told that the first year as a yoga teacher would be the most challenging year, but that it would also be a pivotal: it was to be a time of coming into your own, a time for learning, growing, and developing your unique style of teaching. As I reflect on this past year’s worth of classes I realize that yes, at times it was definitely challenging, but I also realized how far I’ve come since that very first, slightly awkward, class. After a year of teaching I’ve become more comfortable with the position of “teacher,” I’ve begun to settle into a style of my own, and I’ve gained more than I can retain. With thousands of lessons learned throughout this first year, I managed to whittle them down to the top ten. Here they are:
1. Confidence is key. The second you start doubting yourself it shows, and when you start doubting yourself the whole energy of the class will change. Avoid the awkwardness, please! The second you walk into the classroom own and hold your space as the teacher. Know that YOU know what you are doing.
2. Always be open to feedback. And not just from other teachers, but also from your students. Even if it may be a suggestion you don’t whole-heartedly agree with take it in, with a smile, and move on. Do not look at this feedback as criticism – look at it as an opportunity to learn and as a way to develop and strengthen your own personal style of teaching.
3. Be unmessable! This phrase has stuck with me ever since my 200-hour TT. Sometimes people are going to do their own thing during your class. Sometimes there might be a person that doesn’t like your class. Sometimes no one shows up to your class. Instead of beating yourself up or allowing the negative thoughts to take over, look at it, once again, as a learning experience. Gurus are not made overnight. Be patient and stay positive.
4. If, or when, no one shows up use that time wisely. Practice alone or with another teacher. Meditate. Do some handstands. Get outdoors and play. Don’t let the no-shows get into your head. Don’t let the external situations – that are totally out of our control – dim your light (remember, we are unmessable now!).
5. Teach, teach, and teach some more! Your first year as a teacher you learn A TON! You are like a new sponge waiting to absorb everything you can. But, the only way to learn a ton is to teach a ton. Sub classes whenever you can. Start teaching a free or donation-based Community Class. Get your friends together and practice-teach in your backyard. Like anything – the more you do it the more comfortable you become with it.
6. Don’t let your personal practice slip. Take a lot of yoga classes and establish a strong home-practice as well. I think it’s really important for a teacher to find a balance between practicing by yourself and practicing under different teachers (and practicing different styles of yoga). Take ideas and concepts from your own personal, at-home practice and let that be the guide for your next class. Find little things you like from the teachers you look up to and start to incorporate that into your sequences. Draw inspiration from your journey through yoga to share with your students, but don’t forget that you, too, will ALWAYS be a student.
7. Don’t rely on your plan. As a new teacher you never know who is going to show up to your class. Until you get a solid group of regulars, you can expect almost anyone to walk through the front door. It always seemed like the days I planned to have a kick-butt, high-powered class, an older student with a shoulder injury would be the only person to show. Instead of letting it throw me off, I would look at it as an opportunity to practice teaching a slower flowing, Restorative-style class. I’ve gotten to where now I don’t even plan my classes at all!
8. Know your limits as a new teacher. Don’t try to get students into poses that you don’t feel comfortable teaching or don’t have practice teaching. If there are students with certain injuries or situations that you don’t feel comfortable teaching to, be honest. If you don’t know an answer to a student’s question, be honest. Don’t try to be the teacher that you aren’t (yet!). Admit to being new — it’s totally OK! Not knowing is way better than risking an injury.
9. Stay on top of your game. It’s important to invest in yourself as a teacher: take workshops, online courses, or different teacher trainings. Pick up and read your old TT manuals, anatomy books, and journals to stay sharp. Personally, I’ve committed myself to do at least one new training a year.
10. Have fun with it! Don’t go into teaching expecting to make a lot of money right off the bat, because honestly, that’s not going to happen. And maybe it’ll never happen, but that shouldn’t matter! Realize how lucky you are that you get to share this gift of yoga with others. Set standards for yourself as a teacher and always hold yourself accountable, but never take yourself, your classes, or your teaching too seriously. Be able to laugh at yourself when you mess up. Stay humble. Always be happy to see your students and always try your hardest to remember their names. Like Maya Angelou said, “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Caitlin Lawson is a yoga practicing, wave sliding, positive vibe warrior based out of Rincon, Puerto Rico. Caitlin is a RYT-200, WPA Level 1 Certified, and SUP Yoga Certified. She is the founder of Sunburnt & Salty Yoga Company – sunburntandsalty.com